The “Road To The Winter Classic” NHL documentary series received a ton of positive buzz during the three years it aired on HBO, but then somewhat fell off the radar when it moved to Epix in 2014 despite the league’s showcasing of it across NHL.com and other platforms.
There were already concerns about growing lack of interest in the Winter Classic overall thanks to not–great ratings in the past few years, and that’s perhaps been seen with the documentary show too, which has also faced the hurdles of being on a service like Epix with far fewer subscribers than HBO.
Well, the second part of that is now being addressed, with ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski (boy, that feels weird to write) reporting Tuesday that the series will be seen on NBCSN this year:
The NHL’s “Road To The Winter Classic” documentary series is on the move again. Sources tell ESPN that the League’s behind the scenes series will air on NBCSN, the NHL’s U.S. television rights-holder, this December. The series will feature the Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers, who will face off in the Winter Classic at Citi Field on New Year’s Day 2018. Previously, the “Road To The Winter Classic” aired for three seasons on HBO as part of its “24/7” franchise and three more seasons on the EPIX network. The NBCSN “Road” show is expected to air on Wednesday nights. Streaming and Canadian broadcast rights will be announced soon. So, good news for those who love these candid looks at hockey life. But one assumes the colorful language that’s been a hallmark of the show will have no home on non-pay cable.
As Wyshynski notes, there’s probably going to be a bit of a language shift now that this isn’t on premium cable. However, there’s also going to be a massive exposure boost. Epix isn’t rated by Nielsen, but HBO had an estimated 35,620,000 subscribers in December; Epix is presumably a ways below that. By contrast, NBCSN had an estimated 84,466,000.
So there are at least 50 million, and probably more, potential viewers gained as a result of this. This show’s only going to pick up a fraction of those as actual viewers, of course, but having over twice the number of people who could potentially watch it is a nice gain for the league.
This is also a gain that follows what’s been done on this front in Canada, where the series has recently been airing on regular cable’s Rogers Sportsnet rather than a premium cable option. We’ll see how this goes, but it seems positive from the NHL’s standpoint to get this series in front of so many more potential viewers. That could possibly attract new fans to hockey, encourage casual fans to watch more games, and build excitement (and perhaps ratings) for the Winter Classic itself.